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San Jose opens tiny home community for the homeless

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The South Bay city spent years arguing over 80 units, only half of which are done, but pilot program may yield greater results later

A series of small tiny homes with angled rooftops and yellow wood paneled facades. Photos courtesy of San Jose Housing Department

San Jose has some small solutions for a very big problem in the form of tiny homes that will provide temporary shelter for homeless people. After years of debate the first of two planned locations has officially opened.

On Thursday San Jose and state of California marked the opening of the Mabury Bridge Housing Project, a transitional housing facility with a capacity to house 40 people, built on land owned by Valley Transit Authority.

The concept is a similar to San Francisco’s navigation centers, as Mabury Bridge is a temporary site where unhoused people can stay for up to 60 days while the city works to move them into more permanent housing elsewhere. The center offers on-site security, facilities for laundry, storage, and community space.

But rather than the large, dorm-like spaces full of hundreds of people on cots found in San Francisco’s navigation centers, San Jose has opted to created individual micro-homes—built by Habitat For Humanity and dubbed “cabins”—for each of the staying guests. Most of the cabins measure just 80 square feet, with two slightly larger ones with ramp entrances available for guests with disabilities.

The city estimates each cabin cost around $6,500, with the overall budget coming to approximately $2.2 million for the entire pilot. The second 40-unit site is set to open later this year on Felipe Avenue, on a lot owned by Caltrans.

Choosing where to put the temporary developments was a strenuous undertaking in 2017, when the San Jose City Council approved the pilot but came to loggerheads over which neighborhood should host it.

San Jose homeowners fretted about hypotheticals like “increased neighborhood crime, neighborhood blight, poor sanitation, threats to safety,” disease, and, of course, property values.

Selecting the two sites took a full year. The city originally slated the first to finish in 2019, but arguments over the leasing process delayed the opening. The tiny home hubs will remain part of the pilot until 2022, when a state law that allows this type of construction expires.

KTVU reports that as of last week, nine people had moved in, with one person finding housing elsewhere.

The 80 planned spots are merely a drop in the bucket compared to the size of the problem; in 2019, Santa Clara County estimated it had over 9,700 homeless residents, with nearly 6,100 in San Jose.

Of those, more than 5,100 people were unsheltered.